The classic narcissist has a distorted self-image—they have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for attention and admiration, and a lack of empathy for others, among a host of less-than-desirable traits.
So it’s not hard to imagine that in the workplace, they tend to be preoccupied with their achievements, behave as if they are superior to others, and take advantage of people to get what they want. Basically, they’ll do anything to look good in any shape or form. And unless that person is you (of which, then, good on you for being self-aware, and you might want to consider therapy), you probably work with someone like that. There’s one in every office.
Don’t know how to deal with a narcissist in the workplace? We ask Cherlyn Chong, a breakup recovery and dating coach that caters to female professionals, for advice.
If it’s your colleague that is a narcissist…
Forget logicising with them—the key to handling a narcissistic colleague is to frame things in a way that makes them look good.
“Don’t waste your time trying to reason with them. They usually can’t be reasoned with and may even respond childishly,” says Cherlyn.
“You can instead get them to act like kind, considerate people by telling them how much they would be admired if they carry out a certain task. Say things like, ‘I really like what you’ve done here and I like how you’re so dedicated to your work. I think our boss would be really impressed if you could take over this part of the project because you’ll do such a great job. I’m excited to see what happens.'”
Also, you should never expect a narcissist to do what they promised you, so try to get what you want from them before doing them a favour.
“You can achieve this by saying that they’ll look good if their part of the workload gets done first, or that you want to learn from them.”
Cherlyn notes that as long as they do not feel attacked, narcissists respect people who are assertive and go for what they want, so make it a point not to criticise them. She also recommends limiting the time you spend with them even if it means redirecting conversations and keep them to a minimum.
If it’s your boss that is a narcissist…
Since they’re your superior, things are naturally a bit trickier, but that doesn’t mean you’ve got to succumb to your circumstances. Otherwise known as lan lan suck thumb.
According to Cherlyn, narcissistic bosses may deliberately provoke you or go on a full tirade about something trivial you did. They may even seem to love you one moment, but hate you the next, which may leave you feeling confused.
But here’s what is pivotal in preventing an escalation: your reaction.
“If you give them what they want, which is you being upset, angry or even trying to accommodate their needs, they’ll exploit you,” says Cherlyn.
“So if you’re attacked, simply redirect the conversation and keep things concise. For example, if they’re on rant, say, ‘I’m sure this is very taxing on you, so let’s solve this problem as soon as we can. Can you tell me what exactly you have in mind? That way, we can finish this meeting and head home.'”
She points out that you can also employ flattery to make them more receptive to your ideas.
“Say something like, ‘This idea was entirely inspired by your work, and I think it’d be something that would wow everyone if we implement it today.'”
It’s not easy dealing with a narc, but it’s not impossible to do.